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What Is Application Programming Interface

By Devin Logan on 2017-01-30

An application programming interface is a set of components that interact with software. An API is sort of like a limited open source software: a company releases part of their code and part of their features to the public, and people use this limited information to build mash-ups of programs. Read on for the history and future of this powerful tool.



An application programming interface is a set of components that interact with software. An API provides the foundation necessary to build a robust program. A web API is an application programming interface made for the internet. When a user accesses a website via the internet and uses a web API, the user gains information and data from the website’s server. An API is sort of like a limited open source software: a company releases part of their code and part of their features to the public, and people use this limited information to build mash-ups of programs. It is sharing, but it is limited. This sharing is great for businesses, but it can have potentially negative outcomes. If Google or Facebook, for example, discontinues a popular API, companies that have built their website around these APIs can suffer.
 
One example of an API is the Twitter API, which lets software or an application interact with the features and programs of Twitter. The Google Analytics API lets users view customer usage data for websites. The Yahoo APT API lets users sell advertisements on Yahoo. Mailchimp’s API connects a business’s database with email activity.
 
The concept of API “mashups” is more modern. An API mashup combines multiple programs to create something new. For example, Yelp shows recommendations on Google Maps (instead of using its own maps). Google Maps (launched in 2006) is a common program used in such mashups. Icons for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, which often pop up to the side or on the bottom of articles, allow users to interact with multiple platforms at once.
 
API documentation provides a detailed overview on the services and functionalities of a specific API. This documentation helps users use the API to maximize their business purpose.
 
The concept of an API gained ground around 2000. Sales and commerce was the first use for API. In early 2000, Saleforce.com sprang into being. From the very beginning, this company used APIs to help customers integrate their data on multiple platforms. Later in 2000, eBay selectively released its own API, making it easier for businesses and individuals to combine their own websites and applications with eBay’s capabilities. Flickr launched its API in 2004, allowing users to combine their Flickr photo streams with their personal blogs and social media sites. Flickr was acquired by Yahoo very soon after the release of this API.
 
Facebook released its API in 2006. Simultaneously, it released a development platform, which is still in existence today. Using this platform, developers can allow app users to login with their Facebook information. The platform also includes analytical tools to help developers and businesses to track app popularity and user information. In addition, businesses can use the platform’s marketing initiatives, growth tools, and monetization solutions to further develop their apps.
 
Twitter released its API in 2006, just a month after Facebook. Before, many users had been illegally using Twitter functionalities for their own purposes; in many ways, the API release was a response to this use. Users of the Twitter API can embed single or multiple tweets on their website or application, engaging customers. Twitter “follow” buttons are also a key part of this API.
Also in 2006, Amazon got into the API business, releasing Amazon S3 and, soon after, Amazon EC2. Amazon S3 provided web storage service, giving companies great flexibility. Amazon EC2, a cloud computing service that really allowed businesses to take advantage of APIs.
 
Many businesses use APIs in some form or another, but many are not taking full advantage of the power of APIs. In the future, expect businesses to fully leverage this power. 

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